Monday, August 17, 2015
Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ
From July 26, the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, through the 21st Sunday, Aug. 23, we have been experiencing in the Mass something that only takes place every three years. It so happens that Cycle B in the Lectionary belongs to St. Mark, the shortest of the Gospels. It does not have enough material on the public life of Jesus to cover 33 Sundays in Ordinary Time. The 34th does not count, since it coincides with the feast of Christ the King.
Because St. Mark is missing five passages, every three years the Church borrows the sixth chapter from St. John, which has 71 verses, enough to cover five Sundays.
John 6 is known as the chapter of Jesus’ “Bread of Life Discourse.” There, the Lord reveals himself with that title and also as the "living bread come down from heaven." Jesus’ self-revelations according to John are very powerful, beginning with the divine name “I Am,” the name by which God revealed himself to Moses. Jesus says, "I am the light of the world," "I am the Good Shepherd," "I am the true vine," "I am the resurrection and the life," "I am the way, the truth and the life."
The salvation that Jesus the Savior brings can be expressed in concepts such as "reconciliation," "redemption," "liberation," "cleansing," "Easter" or passing over from slavery (not from Egypt but from sin) to the promised land (not to Palestine, but to a new people of God on a pilgrimage towards the Heavenly Jerusalem).
It also greatly helps to conceive salvation in terms of "nourishment." Lack of food leads to death; nutrition to life.
In the Old Testament, God appears saving his chosen ones from dying of starvation. Remember how the Lord fed Elijah using ravens (cf. 1 Kgs, 17). Also Elijah and the widow of Zarephath were providentially saved from hunger (ibid.). His disciple Elisha miraculously fed 100 men with a few loaves (cf. 2 Kgs, 4). And the greatest wonder of saving power came while crossing the desert during the exodus, thanks to the quail and the manna (cf. Ex. 16).
Arriving at the New Testament, we see that Jesus feels compassion for the crowd’s physical hunger. The passage on the multiplication of the loaves and fishes is the only miracle that appears in the four Gospels; Matthew and Mark give two versions of this wonder, so much so that this miraculous event is narrated six times. It was true bread and fish to satisfy the hunger of the stomach.
But the stories of such an extraordinary multiplication also have a transcendent intention that we might call sacramental. Jesus comes to save us from spiritual hunger. The prologue of the fourth Gospel says that the law came through Moses; Jesus brings grace and truth (cf. Jn 1, 17).
Jesus satisfies the hunger for salvific truth with His Word. In the sixth chapter of John, Jesus is presented as bread to be assimilated by faith. He is bread to be believed (v. 35-36). But also, Jesus is bread to be eaten, bread that communicates grace and leads to eternal life. "Whoever eats this bread will live forever" (v. 51a).
Understanding salvation as nourishment has the advantage of instilling in us the understanding that this is a never-ending process. Nobody can eat occasionally. Whoever aspires to enjoy good health seeks nourishment three times a day, every day.
These five Sundays in Ordinary Time teach us to feed daily on the Word of God heard in the liturgy, read privately, and assimilated in the Lectio Divina or other form of mental prayer. Faith dies if the Bread of the Word is lacking.
Jesus also said, "The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world" (51b). He is not only bread to be believed, but to be eaten in the sacrament of the Eucharist. If Holy Communion is lacking, the life of grace received in baptism weakens.
As we have compassion for our mortal bodies and feed them, we also should have compassion for our immortal souls, feeding them with Jesus, Bread of Life.